Trading kneepads for a diploma

I was never good at sports as a kid.

Too short for basketball and too tall for gymnastics, I spent the bulk of my childhood growing into my awkwardly long arms and muscular legs. Sure, I was as jittery as any child, but I never really found my niche.

Elementary school whizzed by and I hit seventh grade, with all of the hormones and acne to boot. But seventh grade marked a milestone in my life much more important than any fashion fad or catty gossip—I found volleyball. It was all about hair ribbons and spandex at the time, but it was a sport nonetheless; a sport that became a part of me.

It took three years to break me into the game, full of endless attempts to charge the ball to the other side of the court, only to watch it fall short the majority of the time. Just like my fellow teammates, I strived to earn a starting spot. But unlike others, I didn’t succumb to the fear of my failures—I only grew hungrier.

Rough beginnings eventually led to a full-time starting position as the middle blocker on my high school varsity team. Success shadowed me, as I went from high school stardom to collegiate two- time All American. Of course, the sport had its ups and downs. There were days when the sole sliver of sanguinity in my life was the court and other days when volleyball sickened me.

We all have a tumultuous relationship with the things we love. There’s an almost absurdity in the simplicity of it all:  a player, a ball, a net, all the hype over a single point on the scoreboard. But somewhere along the line, absurdity gives way to escape.

Escape from the heart-aching alcoholism of my father, escape from the heroin addiction that crippled my closest friend, escape from the potent reality of my world. It’s in that escape that we find the value of dedication, commitment and sacrifice. Whether participants, coaches or spectators, the rigid black paint that separates the fan and the fanatical soon wanes because we all just want to be a part of the game we so dearly love and we dread the day we have to say goodbye.

It arrived sooner than I thought, but the final hours of my volleyball career were painful to say the least. My heart stings at the mere glance of my still sweat-soaked jerseys, almost as if washing them would substantiate my career’s end.

To my mother’s dismay, I will always cling to the salty odor that takes me back to seventh grade. An almost time travel through the countless sprints, injuries, ice bathes and tape jobs until I arrive at the two crates of tattered shirts and teeming accolades that ensue me now. Some believe in love at first sight, I believe in love at first spike.

And while it saddens me knowing it’s time to trade in a pair of kneepads for my college diploma, it will never be over: never let becoming an adult stop you from doing what you love. And if you ever spot me on campus in my sweatpants and CU volleyball sweatshirt, make sure to tell me you love my outfit, I know I do.

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